Literature in Irish - The Irish Revival and Aftermath

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As the revival gathered momentum and a wider readership was cultivated, a new generation of writers in Irish began to look to contemporary European models. Peadar Ó Laoghaire (1839-1920), while not the most imaginative of writers, was a major influence in the development of a new literary diction. In a comparable style, Pádraic Ó Conaire (1882-1928) and Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) introduced the modern short story which became a very popular genre in Modern Irish. Among its more effective practitioners are: Liam O’Flaherty (1897-1984) who also wrote in English; Seosamh Mac Grianna (1901-90); Máirtín Ó Cadhain (1907-70); Donncha Ó Céileachair (1918-60); Seán Mac Mathúna (b.1936); and Pádraic Breathnach (b.1942).

The modern novel has not been as thoroughly cultivated. Peadar Ó Laoghaire wrote a folk-novel, I>Séadna, and a historical novel, Niamh, the former being more successful than the latter. Séamas Ó Grianna (1891-1969), under the pen-name Máire, wrote romantic novels which gained a wide popularity. Other estimable novelists are: Seosamh Mac Grianna; Máirtin Ó Cadhain, author of Cré na Cille ‘the earth of the graveyard’; Pádraig Ua Maoileoin (b.1913); Eoghan Ó Tuairisc (1919-82); Dónall Mac Amhlaigh (1926-89); Breandán Ó hEithir (1930-90); Diarmaid Ó Súilleabháin (1932-85); Pádraig Standún (b.1944); Alan Titley (b.1947); Pádraig Ó Cíobháin (b.1951); Ciarán Ó Coigligh (b.1952); and Séamus Mac Annaidh (b.1964).

Drama has also had its exponents: Douglas Hyde (1860-1949); Mícheál Mac Liammóir(1899-1978); Máiréad Ní Ghráda (1899-1971); Séamas Ó Néill (1910-1981); Eoghan Ó Tuairisc; Brendan Behan (1923-64); Seán Ó Tuama (b.1926); Críostóir Ó Floinn (b.1927).

The Irish revival movement, through its concern to conserve the vernacular Irish tradition, led to an appreciation of the copious oral literature which in Irish survived well into the twentieth century. As a result, an exceptionally fine collection of material has been recorded and is in the keeping of the Department of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin. A proportion of the material has been edited and published. In addition, some of the best traditional story-tellers were persuaded to record their own experiences, and from this developed a distinct genre of Gaeltacht autobiography. Two examples of the latter have become internationally known classics: An tOileánach ‘the islandman’ by Tomás Ó Criomhthain (1856-1937), and Fiche blian ag fás ‘twenty years a-growing’ by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin (1904-50).

Modern poetry, which began with Patrick Pearse and his contemporaries, reached full maturity in mid-century in the works of Máirtín Ó Direáin (1910-88), Seán Ó Ríordáin (1917-77), and Máire Mhac an tSaoi (b.1922). Foremost among its present-day exponents are: Pearse Hutchinson (b.1927), Deirdre Brennan (b.1934), Tomás Mac Síomóin (b.1938), Michael Hartnett (b.1941), Mícheál Ó Siadhail (b.1947), Biddy Jenkinson (b.1949), Gabriel Rosenstock (b.1949), Dáithí Ó hÓgáin (b. 1949), Liam Ó Muirthile (b.1950), Michael Davitt (b.1950), Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (b.1952), Áine Ní Ghlinn (b.1955), Cathal Ó Searcaigh (b.1956) and Colm Breathnach (b.1961).

While poetry is the genre most frequently translated into English, in reality it may also be the genre most resistant to assimilation into an English-language literary tradition. Although a majority of the population can now read such work only in translation, the writing of Irish-language poets remains central to a definition of the country’s contemporary literary tradition. Speakers, readers, and writers of Irish are marginal in number only. They are, more crucially, the living and vibrant expression of a literary culture which spans more than fourteen centuries, and they are the warranty for the continuing linguistic and cultural diversity of the island of Ireland.

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by Michael Green
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